I recently saw some publicity material concerning Gregg Olsen and his "page-turning thrillers." Let me assure you that such a description is not an exaggeration. Olsen has written a number of what I would call "serial-thriller" novels over the past several years, dealing with the bloody deeds of extremely frightening people whose capacity for violence is exceeded only by their cleverness. So it's interesting that CLOSER THAN BLOOD is just a bit different for Olsen. The violence is toned down a shade, and the killer is not hunting random victims. What we have instead is a cat-and-mouse hunt for an individual who is motivated in equal parts by bloodlust and greed. What has not changed, however, is Olsen's capacity to keep his readers velcroed to the edge of their seats from first page to last.
CLOSER THAN BLOOD features the return of Kendall Stark from 2010's VICTIM SIX. Stark, a detective with the Kitsap County, Washington Sheriff's Office, is involved in putting together the 15-year reunion of her high school graduating class. Those plans are disrupted when the husband of one of her former classmates is murdered in his home. Tori O'Neal Connelly was hardly one of the most popular students in Stark's homecoming class, and had a checkered history even before graduation day, a history that was sadly and fatally intertwined with Stark's. O'Neal's twin sister, Lainie, who is on the reunion committee with Stark, hasn't seen or heard from her twin in years, and news of this tragedy brings the two siblings together for an uneasy reunion when Tori requests that Lainie come to her home in nearby Tacoma to assist her during what would appear to be a difficult time.
Tori's story is that her husband was murdered (while she was only wounded) in their home by a masked assailant, who the police are led to believe is a neighbor with whom Tori had a one-night stand. Readers know differently, however, and a great deal of the novel is devoted to a cat-and-mouse game between Stark and Tori as the days count down to the class reunion. Tori is an extremely evil and dangerous woman whose list of victims stretches two decades into the past and whose depravity in search of whatever she happens to be seeking at the moment respects no boundaries.
At the same time, we learn a bit about Stark's history, and how difficult choices and painful secrets in her past cause her to reopen a wrongful death case closed long before she became a law enforcement officer. The book reaches its conclusion at a class reunion like none you've ever witnessed as truths are revealed and justice is done, but at a painful cost to at least one party.
CLOSER THAN BLOOD is by far Olsen's best work to date, touching on some riveting and controversial topics while an unusual yet familiar countdown takes place, one that those who have graduated from high school anywhere from five to 50 years ago will know, if not necessarily appreciate. And while fans of the film Body Heat may find that Tori puts them in the mind of Matty Walker, they will also find that CLOSER THAN BLOOD transcends its sources.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on April 4, 2011